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Not Quite Another Pokémon Go Summer

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Thursday, 7th of October, 2021

My Dearest William,

I am so sorry to be the one to break this news to you, but, as you understand, this atrocity must be documented. In the future, if there is to be one, the children shall look upon our generation and wonder how we could ever have allowed something like this to happen, and when they ask, we shall answer by showing them this letter, not by way of excuse, but, I suppose, as some kind of apology. I am sending this to you so that you might protect it, for you know that if They get their hands- wings?- on it, they shall dispose of it with their talons, never to be seen again. So, without further ado, here it is. This is my account of the DuolinGO tragedy.

On the thirteenth of August, 2021, Duolingo announced its partnership with Pokémon Go. They called it DuolinGO, but the name never really caught on. And the masses rejoiced at this holy and blessed union- the thrill of language learning, partnered with a possible sequel to that one Pokémon Go summer? It almost seemed too good to be true.

DuolinGO was certainly popular that year, before some unfortunate truths were realised. There were many things going on in the world, but that simply made the game have more and more appeal. People sought out its escapism and joy in these troubling times, and thus, there were more people on the app than ever before. Especially with some new additions.

First of all, there was the Duo Pokémon. With the help of online communities and internet forums, it was quickly discovered that:

Duo would only appear to you if you had completed your streak that day.
When you attempted to catch it, it nearly always fled.

But what you didn’t realise, in the haze of the summer heat and the passion of the moment, was that if it fled, you were safe. If it fled, you were protected. If it fled, it had decided, for now at least, that you were to be spared. And those who weren’t foolish, those who had any sense, took this as a blessing. They ignored the rustling of the tree above them when Duo disappeared from their screen. They paid no attention to the hooting sounds above them, dismissing it to their children as ‘probably just a car alarm’, or ‘maybe a dog’. If those hooting noises resembled something else, like, say, conjugations of Latin verbs, or just the right way to pronounce ‘de mensen zijn voorlopig veilig’, then they were clearly imagining things. And if a pile of green feathers settled in front of their feet? Well, of course, those were just some oddly shaped leaves. They were common this time of year? Didn’t you know? And then they’d hurry away to go and catch a Mudkip.

Yes, the owls were something best left undiscussed and unapproached. Even now, as I write this, I am looking over my shoulder to check that they have not seen it. To discuss them was to invite them in, and, as the few who caught them would quickly discover, that was not something that should be done, at all costs.

They wouldn’t see the Duos’ corporeal forms hovering in their rooms, ominously chanting the colours in Dutch. They wouldn’t hear mournful wails of common Spanish idioms drift through their halls at night, like the cries of a lamenting ghost. Not yet. All of that could come after. No, for the unlucky few, those who got their daily XP and no more, those who never advanced past the Bronze league and never intended to, it was like a slowly encroaching madness. It was shown in small acts, yet acts so threatening that they could not have meant anything but threats. It would be infrequent enough to not attract media attention (or maybe that was just a combination of propaganda and bias) and yet, it occurred often enough to severely unsettle whichever unfortunate soul they had chosen. I shall not go into details about those afflicted with the Duos, for we all know too well what they suffered in that month. But it was to change, soon enough, and not necessarily for the better.

As more people began to play the game, more Duos were found in it, and thus released into the real world. At present, we are not sure exactly how they manage to transcend the bounds of reality to come here, but we do know that they are one of the most successful invasive species to date. The amount of people who speak more than one language fluently has also nearly doubled. The game has now been banned in most countries for these reasons, but that does not prevent the already-existing Duos from increasing their numbers. As I write, I see four of them outside my window, sitting on the telephone line. I told them I’m writing out vocabulary words.

I have to go now, else my daily streak shall be compromised. But remember, William, to keep this letter safe, and to keep it somewhere you can find it in case of emergency. I shall not put my name on this letter, because I do not wish it to be traced back to me, but I hope that you will know who it is from.

All my love,